How To Nail The Perfect Ending
“When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first, that way in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side,” said the famous Nora Ephron. The expressed sentiment is completely justified. After all, the ending of a book could lead to new beginnings for an author. Before we explore the nuances of writing the perfect/correct ending, it is important to note that art is subjective and the final onus lies with the author of the book. The following content is in no way suggesting you change your work. Rather, it presents the writer with several methods that are tried and tested in the past while understanding the mechanisms behind writing the perfect ending.
Why is the ending paramount?
Every author has their own process. When a writer puts pen to paper, they envision a trajectory. Many times the final product is different from the initial expectations. This is in no way is a con; rather, it is quite natural. However, it is important to pay attention to whether the ending justifies the rest of the book. When a reader picks up your book to peruse, they are actively investing their time and energy into your work. The book should, ideally, engulf the reader in its own universe and reality. This means that the ending of the book essentially decides whether you were successful in winning over the reader. This is the point where the reader establishes themselves as a fan or just another reader. They make the decision to follow your work on the basis of how they feel post the ending. Here’s the thing, you could have great material in the beginning or for the major part of the book, but if the ending is nonsensical it will take away from the rest of the book. Hence, an apt ending is a dominant factor when it comes to making an impact. At the end of the day, we all write to create an impact. Be that as it may, you don’t need to overwork yourself to get that correct ending. It will come to you. In case it doesn’t, you can refer to the following types of ending as your checklist.
What are the different types of ending?
a. The ending that gives you closure (Resolved Ending)
This category of books includes endings that are absolute in nature. They help the reader to tie all the loose ends in the book. This type of ending is widely common in romantic novels and non-fiction novels. If your book is heading towards a resolved ending, there are certain questions you can ask yourself to evaluate your work. Did you answer all the questions that you laid out for the reader at the beginning to explore through the course of the book? Does your reader have the complete picture of your book by the end? Will the reader feel satisfied at the end of the book? It’s also helpful to check (especially in case of fiction novels) whether you have completed all your character arcs. Examples of books with the resolved endings are The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Latitudes Of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup, and The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
b. An ending that leaves the reader wanting more (Unresolved Ending)
This type of ending is perfect for books that are in a series. The idea behind an unresolved ending is to keep the reader hooked on the story. The ending compels the reader to take up the next book in the series to find out what happens next. These endings may comprise leaving the reader with a question or with a new piece of information that raises their curiosity. It is important to note that in pursuit of writing your unresolved ending, do not compromise on the content of the book. An example of an unresolved ending is The Immortals of Meluha by Amish. The ending forces the reader to dive into the next book ASAP while keeping the book wholesome in itself. Another example of the same trend is the Harry Potter series.
c. Inexplicit ending (Ambiguous Ending)
Under this category, the author expects the reader to derive their own meaning from the book. Such endings don’t essentially spell out what the author is trying to conclude. They derive meaning depending on the reader’s discretion. Kurt Vonnegut is famous for giving his books such as Slaughterhouse Five ambiguous endings where the author leaves the end open to interpretation. Another example of the same could be a short story written by Haruki Murakami called the Birthday Girl. It’s important to note that while keeping your ending open to interpretation, it is still imperative that it’s in alignment with the rest of the book and its themes. It’s crucial to maintain a flow while writing your book and that needs to be maintained till the very end.
d. ‘I didn’t see that coming’ type of ending (Unexpected Ending)
If you are regular at consuming thriller and crime-related content then you’re already acquainted with this type of ending. Crime and psychological thrillers work on this kind of ending. Under this category, the author leads the reader to believe one thing while revealing a completely different truth in the end. Agatha Christie is highly famous for inculcating unexpected endings in her detective mysteries that are widely recognised. While writing an unexpected ending, it is important to keep in mind that the twisted/unexpected end still makes sense with the pretext of the book. It is imperative to drop hints and foreshadow clues that lead up to your final ending. Writing unexpected endings is highly recommended since it challenges that reader positively. It could also lead a reader to peruse the book twice to look for missing clues. It is important to make sure that your unexpected ending still complies with the theme of the book, otherwise, there’s a risk of it looking redundant. An examples of a book that completely caught the readers off guard is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Similarly, books like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and Psycho by Robert Bloch leave the readers completely surprised.
e. Endings specific (not limited) to writing non-fiction
If you are writing non-fiction then you need to recognise what category it falls under like memoirs, self-help books, social commentary, or research. Irrespective of the category, one thing that remains common and non-negotiable in all is that your book essentially establishes a need. The book states, ideally in the beginning, the motivation of the author behind their work. While writing your ending it’s important to assess whether it’s conclusive in nature. There are different approaches that are favourable while writing an ending for non-fiction such as:
• Moral of the story: This approach is very common in memoirs where the author ends the book by recounting their life lessons/musings from their experiences. The majority of them are positive and hopeful in nature. While writing such an ending it’s important to ask yourself if it puts the message across.
• Asking the right questions: Some works of non-fiction compel the reader to explore the topic further on their own. Books like The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff catch the reader’s intrigue on a topic that is highly relevant to society today. The book offers insights and Zuboff’s research on the topic of data surveillance. She ends the book by writing “No more! Let this be our declaration” which forces the reader to introspect on the topic.
• Self-Help Books + Personal Anecdotes: Many authors include anecdotes from their lives while writing a self-help book. This essentially establishes a more personal touch and helps the reader to relate more. If you start your book with a story from your life, ending it with the same or similar story will provide a wholesome touch to your book. For example, You Don’t Have to Be a Shark by Robert Herjavec includes several anecdotes from his life. He follows the trend up until the end of his book where he concludes his story on Dancing as well (which was a running theme from the beginning). Another example of the same is Sizing People Up by Robin Dreeke where he mentions the life experiences that compelled him to share his knowledge.
• Ending with the title: Amy Schumer’s The Girl with The Lower Back Tattoo ends with her explaining the story behind her actual lower back tattoo. Schumer writes “I’m proud of this ability to laugh at myself – even if everyone can see my tears, just like they can see my dumb, senseless, wack, lame lower back tattoo.” The idea behind such an ending is to gauge the reader’s attention to the very last page and finally give them what they want.
A little bit more on writing the correct/perfect ending!
Irrespective of what category or genre your book fits into, remember to stay true to your story. The idea behind a book is to essentially communicate what the author wants to tell the world. The perfect ending should be conclusive to that principle. It’s crucial to note that, more often than never, you will not find your perfect ending in the first draft. It’s very much possible that you may change the ending all together post editing. It is helpful to read your work objectively later to check if the ending aligns with the rest of your book. Asking someone to read your work could also give you some insight on the same. In the end, you need to remember that you cannot (and should not) rush with writing the ending. Give it the necessary time. Trust your process and it will come to you.